AP Board Member Responds to ‘Fire the Wire’ Guest Column

By: E&P Staff

Jay Smith, president of Cox Newspapers Inc., and a member of The Associated Press Board of Directors, has sent E&P a letter responding to a Shoptalk guest column posted here on Tuesday by Mark Phillips, a former editor (still available in our Columns section on the home page).

Phillips argues that local papers should drop wire services — since many readers can get such news easily on the Web from multiple sites — and use the money saved to hire local journalists.

Smith’s letter follows.

In calling for newspapers to “fire” their wire services and to use those dollars to build local news staffs, Mark Phillips means well, but he gets it wrong.

As the president of a newspaper group that includes 17 dailies and 26 weeklies, I, too, preach the gospel of local coverage. It is, as Phillips suggests, something that sets us apart from other news organizations. But it?s important to remember that newspapers also remain vital sources of news that extends far beyond their immediate circulation areas.

Readers need and want to know what happened in Iraq yesterday. Might they have already heard something on radio (unlikely), on television (superficially), or via the Internet (yes, if a headline and a lead paragraph suffice)? But they also want the story behind the story. And that is where newspapers excel. And they can only do so with the help of their news services. It is as much a part of their “franchise” as local coverage.

This is not an either-or proposition. It’s a matter of providing readers excellent local coverage AND superb regional, national and international news that brings readers the background and context so sorely lacking in other media.

It’s the sort of work done so well by The Associated Press, on whose board — in the spirit of full disclosure — I serve. AP provides newspapers with information their readers can get nowhere else and which is essential for an informed public. Evidence suggests that Internet users are unlikely to read such information in the same way they do in print. Online users are very utilitarian. They know what they want, they get it and they’re gone. Newspaper readers, on the other hand, linger over a story. They read deep and they want a return for their investment of time. Is forcing loyal readers to go to the Internet for non-local news a winning strategy?

One of the myths of AP is that it is little more than a stenographer of the times in which we live. While that has never been the case, it is even less so today. If you don’t believe me, take a look at any respectable U.S. daily and count the number of AP-bylined stories that surprise, entertain and enlighten you. Then tell me where else you would have found that story. And, not least, remember that newspapers? own Web sites serve their readers as another outlet of information, and news services such as AP provide them with important breaking news in all formats.

Smart editors and publishers understand all of this. The answer is not a knee-jerk approach to “fire” anyone or anything. Rather, it is to make the wisest and best use of the resources at their disposal, which, I hope, continues to include news services. It?s called editing.

Jay R. Smith

For the Phillips column:

Click here.

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